CLEARWATER — Tanned, relaxed and looking like a NASCAR driver in his neon racing suit, Marc Granet powered up a 38-foot, 1,050-horsepower cigarette boat called Caveman and eased away from the dock behind the Island Way Grill.
He cranked up the stereo, blasted AC/DC's Hells Bells and asked a bunch of pumped-up reporters itching for a thrill, "You all right?''
"Yeah!'' they yelled over the wind Thursday during a ride to promote today's inaugural Clearwater Super Boat Offshore National Championship and Festival.
After one TV journalist asked for and received a life vest (prompting everyone to put one on), Granet navigated out of the no-wake zone into the Gulf of Mexico and throttled up.
The bow lifted and the vessel, a boat that will be used as a pace boat during the race, surged forward.
Zooming past fishermen on Pier 60 and a parasailer floating by, he sped up to 80 miles per hour. But it felt much faster.
Granet will be going more than 100 mph faster in today's race when he pilots the Miss Geico, a 50-foot catamaran powered by twin jet turbine engines from Cobra attack helicopters (3,850 horsepower combined) that can go 213 mph.
The carbon fiber capsules have the same types of windows found in jets.
"A bird can hit them at 550 knots and they will not break,'' said Bob Teague, owner/throttleman of the Amsoil, another boat in Sunday's race.
Should there be a crash, there are escape hatches out the bottom.
But drivers don't worry about that.
"It's euphoric to go that fast,'' said John Haggin, Miss Geico team owner. "It's just dancing on top of the water.''
Said Granet, Miss Geico's pilot: "The Miss Geico is the space shuttle of race boats.''
Some of the most famous boats in the sport, including the big ones that are equipped with F-16 jet canopies, will compete for a $75,000 purse on the 5.3-mile course.
You can watch the competition for free from the beach between Pier 60 north to the Palm Pavilion restaurant.
Drivers will race from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today.
Because it might be difficult to find a parking space close to the beach, you may want to park in lots and garages in downtown Clearwater.
Then you should head to Coachman Park, where the Jolley Trolley and a couple of buses will make round trips all weekend. Rides are $1.
"This," race adviser Ray "Coach'' Pusillo said, "is going to take everybody's breath away.''
Eileen Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.